Josep Maria Bartomeu
A 5-0 derby win, an assist for 105 million euro ($126 million) purchase Ousmane Dembele on his debut and a four-point La Liga lead over Real Madrid ought to have brought some relief to Barcelona’s beleaguered board.
Yet no sooner had the celebrations died down from Luis Suarez’s finish from Dembele’s cross in the final minute of Saturday’s thrashing of Espanyol, than cries for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign rang around the Camp Nou.
In the eyes of the fans, Bartomeu and his cohorts deserve no reflected glory for the players’ performances as they have been in open conflict with the dressing room during a chaotic summer precipitated by Neymar’s departure for Paris Saint-Germain.
Juventus’ visit in the Champions League on Tuesday could have offered the chance of a new start and revenge for last season’s quarter-final defeat by the Italian champions.
Instead, the battle for control of the club between fans, players and president rages on.
Even after Saturday’s rout, supporters formed large queues to sign a vote of no confidence petition launched by a former presidential candidate, Agusti Benedito.
According to Barcelona-based newspaper Sport, Benedito now has over 3,000 of the 16,570 signatures from club members he needs to force a vote on Bartomeu’s future.
The clash with Juventus offers another quick opportunity for Benedito to drum up support with a huge crowd expected at the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou.
– Messi future –
For all Barca’s off-field problems, on the pitch they can still rely on Lionel Messi to iron out most difficulties.
The five-time World Player of the Year’s hat-trick at the weekend took his tally for the season already to six goals.
However, Bartomeu’s handling of Messi’s future has become another stick with which to beat the club’s board.
On July 5, Barca announced an agreement with Messi, whose current contract expires at the end of the season, to extend his deal to 2021.
Yet, he has still to put pen to paper despite Bartomeu’s insistence the wait for Messi’s signature is merely a matter of time.
The club claim the case of captain Andres Iniesta, whose deal also runs out next year, is the same.
Bartomeu told Catalan daily Mundo Deportivo last week there was an agreement in principle for the 33-year-old to renew, only for the normally mild-mannered Iniesta to flatly refute that claim less than 24 hours later.
The board’s decision to repeatedly attack and even sue Neymar for breach of contract has also backfired.
The ink on a club statement outlining their reasons for taking the Brazilian to court had not dried by the time a number of Barca’s leading players including Messi and Suarez posted pictures online of them embracing their old teammate.
“This president is a joke,” Neymar replied on Instagram last week.
The open conflict between the players and board was most clearly evidenced when Gerard Pique revealed the players knew of Neymar’s intentions to leave as far back as Messi’s wedding on June 30.
Senior board members claim to have not been informed until days before Neymar’s departure on August 2.
Neymar’s world record 222-million-euro move sparked a wild goose chase in the final few weeks of the transfer window at Barca.
Dozens of targets came and went with only Dembele and Brazilian international Paulinho arriving for grossly inflated fees.
A 5-1 Spanish Super Cup aggregate thrashing by Real Madrid piled more pressure on Bartomeu.
But league wins over Real Betis, Alaves and Espanyol have only served to show how much Barca need Messi.
Bartomeu needs him to sign his new deal even more to quench the thirst for his resignation.